A History of Cider in the New World, Part 1 – Cider in Northern Colonial America

Cider’s history in the New World is a series of events that twist and turn with the rapid expansion and tumultuous social changes that have shaped American history. While relatively unknown to the modern American consumer, cider was the drink of choice for the first several centuries of European settlement in the original thirteen and Canadian colonies and earliest frontiers.

The beginning of cider

The history of cider in the United States begins with the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving. When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Bay Colony in 1620, they found themselves in a strange and unforgiving land and completely out of ale. Anyone who has experienced a Massachusetts ice or snow storm can imagine the sadness of an imminent winter without proper food, shelter, or drink to keep spirits and bodies warm through the harsh New England winter. Even though nearly half the colony died in the first winter, human creativity flourished, and the first year saw them making ‘beer’ with pumpkins, parsnips, and corn stalks. This was not evidently a big hit, and with a lack of barley or grapes for traditional beer and wine, cider quickly became the Plymouth colony favorite drink.
The absence of barley and grapes, used for Old World traditional alcoholic drinks, encouraged cider’s popularity in the new settlements.
There has been some debate over whether native wild apples existed prior to English colonization or whether they were left by explorers and fisherman along the New England coast who had arrived and been conducting business on the coast up to a hundred years prior to the Pilgrims landing. Either way, grafts and seedling apple trees from England quickly made the transatlantic voyage with the early settlers and spread across New England and the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.
George Washington invited the entire delegation out for pints of cider the night before the 1761 election, and swept the election the following day.

Forty miles to the north of Plymouth Plantation, a man by the name of William Blackstone settled himself on a small island called Shawmut. He arrived alone and began homesteading until the arrival of John Winthrop and his group of Puritans arrived and settled across the river from him. Blackstone planted the first known orchard in the United States on Shawmut Island on a ‘Beacon Hill.’ Today Beacon Hill and Shawmut island would be scarcely recognizable, as Beacon Hill is now the most exclusive neighborhood in Boston, lined with 18th century townhomes.

Shawmut is now the heart of the Boston financial district, filled with historical sites, such as the Boston Massacre site and Fanueil Hall. Blackstone has largely been forgotten for his role in Boston history, overridden by the Puritan settlers who began flooding Massachusetts Bay Colony in the mid-1600s, but his trees began to spread by seedlings and grafts across the colony. Cider quickly became the most popular drink of Massachusetts and New England due to the Puritan aversion to harder alcohols and inability to source much else for.

William Blackstone planted the first USA orchard in Shawmut island, Boston, presently located in the heart of the city’s financial district.

The importance of cider in the political life of the USA

Over the next 150 years, orchards and cider presses sprung up from Quebec to Virginia to fuel the desire for cider. By the time of the American Revolution, cider was an entrenched facet of American culture. George Washington launched his political career in the colonial Virginia House of Burgesses and lost his first election in 1755. Learning from his mistakes, he invited the entire delegation out for pints of cider the night before the 1761 election, and swept the election the following day. Thomas Jefferson touted the superiority of American varietals and ciders as the equals of the best of Champagnes and grew some unique varieties such as the Talliaferro and Esopus Spitzenburg, as well as the well known Newtown Pippin. In Paris, he wrote back home to his friend, “They have no apple to compare with our Newtown Pippin.”John Adams recommended ‘cyder’ to be aged at least two or three years, touting it a salubrious beverage well suited to keep a person in good health. His wife Abigail Adams managed the farm during his politicking years and their African American servant James was the cider master for the household. By the dawn of the United States in 1776, cider was close to peaking in popularity and consumption in the New World. Orchards grew at the forefront of the new American attempts to conquer the frontier as the young nation grew and pushed further into the continent.

Author: Jonathan Mark Quigley

Expert in farm managing and cider technical production in Warren Orchards, Washington, USA. He has been in charge for developing innovative recipes and cider styles, such as Fruit Cider, Ice Cider and Barrel Aged Cider. He is an awarded cider maker in cider contests in the USA. Jonathan is a Master Cider Maker by the Cider & Perry Academy, UK.

One Reply to “A History of Cider in the New World, Part 1 – Cider in Northern Colonial America”

  1. Only a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw great style and design.

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